The eBook User’s Bill of Rights

This is from Sarah Houghton-Jan and Andy Woodworth – take a peek (I’m guessing this will be all over the librarian parts of the web very soon).

They have crafted an eBook User’s Bill of Rights, and it’s good. Honestly, the only thing I’m not sure about here (and I might talk more about it later) is the right of first sale thing – that’s a hold-over from actually owning a physical object … and in the digital content world … well, you don’t actually own anything physical.

Otherwise, Sarah and Andy did a great job. in my mind, this Bill of Rights works for librarians AND authors – the idea of sharing and distribution is inherent in this document.

Does it work for publishers? I think it does. And it’s certainly a good place to start the conversation. What do you think?


The eBook User’s Bill of Rights is a statement of the basic freedoms that should be granted to all eBook users.

The eBook User’s Bill of Rights

Every eBook user should have the following rights:

  • the right to use eBooks under guidelines that favor access over proprietary limitations
  • the right to access eBooks on any technological platform, including the hardware and software the user chooses
  • the right to annotate, quote passages, print, and share eBook content within the spirit of fair use and copyright
  • the right of the first-sale doctrine extended to digital content, allowing the eBook owner the right to retain, archive, share, and re-sell purchased eBooks

I believe in the free market of information and ideas.

I believe that authors, writers, and publishers can flourish when their works are readily available on the widest range of media. I believe that authors, writers, and publishers can thrive when readers are given the maximum amount of freedom to access, annotate, and share with other readers, helping this content find new audiences and markets. I believe that eBook purchasers should enjoy the rights of the first-sale doctrine because eBooks are part of the greater cultural cornerstone of literacy, education, and information access.

Digital Rights Management (DRM), like a tariff, acts as a mechanism to inhibit this free exchange of ideas, literature, and information. Likewise, the current licensing arrangements mean that readers never possess ultimate control over their own personal reading material. These are not acceptable conditions for eBooks.

I am a reader. As a customer, I am entitled to be treated with respect and not as a potential criminal. As a consumer, I am entitled to make my own decisions about the eBooks that I buy or borrow.

I am concerned about the future of access to literature and information in eBooks. I ask readers, authors, publishers, retailers, librarians, software developers, and device manufacturers to support these eBook users’ rights.

These rights are yours. Now it is your turn to take a stand. To help spread the word, copy this entire post, add your own comments, remix it, and distribute it to others. Blog it, Tweet it (#ebookrights), Facebook it, email it, and post it on a telephone pole.

To the extent possible under law, the person who associated CC0 with this work has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to this work

  • Sarah Houghton-Jan

    David I think your comments hit upon one of the many really important points of the rights that we outlined — what from the physical world do we try to translate to the digital, and what don’t we? My biggest concern with the lost of the first-sale doctrine is that we don’t have any rights to archive or retain the digital content we own right now. That extends beyond eBooks into digital music, movies, magazines, newspapers, etc. We -own- nothing. Tim Spaulding has been vocalizing this concern for a long time, and it’s still amazing to me how few librarians and consumers realize that they don’t own the digital content they have access to. You stop paying every year and you have nothing to show for it. If there are other ways to address those concerns, without calling upon the first-sale doctrine, I am all ears!

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  • Deb

    David – as a consumer, I haven’t bought an ereader because I can’t get past being forced to give up the right of first sale. It offends me deeply that I am expected to pay for content and then I don’t own it. If I pay for a book, CD, DVD, tape, etc. I own it and can lend it to my daughter, regift it, donate it to a charity, etc. With these digital books the only difference is format, the content is the same. But the format of the content dictates my rights to use it. In fact, the vendor can reach down into my device, in my own home, and take the content back! That’s the equivalent of a bookseller breaking into my house and taking back a book I purchased. Not to mention that Amazon claims the right of ownership over all content that I put on the device, including any content I create such as notes, margin comments, etc. There is no justification for that.

  • libraryphile

    Regarding right of first sale, I’d argue that format is irrelevent, and the content has always been what was supposed to be protected anyway. Words on a page or words in a computer file…the intellectual property is the intended recipient of copyright protection. The tendency to confuse the content with the container is what has let publishers create this situation. They’ve essentially been allowed to treat eBooks as software rather than books, because the container (a computer file) makes it look like software. We need to separate the intellectual property from the format in our minds, and in our laws.

  • Batarang

    I don’t mind not being able to re-sell or lend a book to someone; I’m a pack rat.
    What I do mind is infinite goods not being accessible infinitely. I do mind paying $10 (and more) for “software” that can be replicated and distributed for very little cost.

    I would be willing to pay $2-$5 for most ebooks and, perhaps, $25 for a college textbook. But, I would also need the ability to access my paid-for content until I die. Either that or I could pay a $30 subscription each month for all printed content in the world including periodicals. $30 x 12 x 30 years remaining on earth = $10,800 which is about what I would spend in that amount of time anyway, not including taxes for libraries.

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